Were I Not Stubborn


nicole2_icon.gif rickham_icon.gif

Scene Title Were I Not Stubborn
Synopsis Nicole and Rickham both prove to each other just how stubborn they are.
Date March 31, 2010

Solstice Condominiums - Jenn Chesterfield's Home

It's been a while since Nicole's let herself into her friend's home with her spare key. She wonders how long it will be before Catherine clears the place out so it can be sold or rented out to someone new. Nicole doesn't like that prospect one bit. With a muted jingle, she finds the right key and slides it into the lock, turning it quietly as if one of the neighbours might somehow intuit that she's entering the dead woman's apartment and scold her, or call the cops.

Nicole lingers with her hand on the knob, picturing that somehow Jenn might be on the other side of the door, as she had almost always been. How many times had she come over in her most comfortable lounge pants, oversized college sweatshirt and fuzzy slippers, like she is now, to discuss campaign strategies over pizza or take-out. Nicole desperately wants it all to have been some ruse. Some lie. She wishes on every falling star that ever was or ever will that Jenn Chesterfield faked her own death.

She knows better.

With a heavy sigh and a heavier heart, Nicole finally pushes open the door. She's not sure what she expects to find here. Even some measure of solace seems too much to ask for.

It's empty.

The furniture is gone, the curtains have been taken down, someone plastered over that dent Jennifer punched in the wall near the bedroom after finding out that Pinehearst information was released to the public. It's like waking up to find the world you knew washed away with the changing of the tides. Everything Jennifer Chesterfield had left behind in her home is gone, every memory of her has been scrubbed clean, and only the jaundiced yellow glow of the street lights falls through the open windows now.

But the shadow cast across those hardwood floors belongs to a man, not a piece of furniture.

Hazel eyes stare blankly from beneath the brim of a worn old fedora, and the way the light sharply strikes one side of his face and casts his sallow expression into sharp plays of light and dark is unmistakable. Allen Rickham is like a ghost to Nicole, a phantom that lingers here in the memory of Jennifer Chesterfield.

It figures she'd have given him a key.

"Allen," Nicole breathes, unable to hide the surprise in her expression. He perhaps wasn't the last person she expected to see here, but he's still unexpected. Almost as much a ghost to her as the woman who once lived here. Her lips twitch as if she isn't sure if she's meant to smile or frown in this situation.

The barest hint of tears in her eyes glint in the yellowed glow of lamps meant to illume streets and not homes. "I'm sorry," is all Nicole can manage to say before crossing the empty space to stand within arm's reach of the man, but not reaching out to him yet. The restraint it takes makes her muscles ache nearly as much as her heart.

"I know," is perhaps not the most comforting answer Rickham can give in that gruff tone he has. When brows furrow and draw creases across his forehead, hazel eyes depart from Nicole's far bluer ones and move to look out the window he's standing in front of. There's tension all through the older man's figure, though it's hard to tell which problem could be the source. "It was a Russian…" he finally murmurs, his eyes distant and unfocused, reflection muted in the glass.

"Her murderer. I don't know any more than that, really. Reb— " Allen's voice cuts off, a frustrated noise rumbling in the back of his throat. "Someone I work with heard it through the grape vine. Someone's trying to get back at Catherine for something, these Russians… might be mafia, I dunno…" There's a subtle shake of Rickham's head, as he refuses to address the elephant in the room. "They went after her mother instead."

It's like someone's socked Nicole in the stomach. For all the reasons Jenn could have wound up dead, be it random attack or someone wanting her to pay for her own misdeeds, it's the sins of her daughter that are to blame.

Confused eyes fix on Rickham's reflection in the window pane, searching for his gaze that won't reach hers. She knows him well enough that he's just shown her all the cards in his hand, though there's always an ace up his sleeve. The subject of Jenn's murder is dropped. She won't glean more from him, and he from her.

"Allen," she repeats his name as softly as she had spoken the first time, "I need to show you something." Nicole watches his expression, distorted and faint as it is.

Running his tongue over the front of his teeth, Allen's brows crease together, showing more wrinkles and worry lines etched into his face than Nicole remembers. He watches her, watches the anxiety play across her face, and the part of him that still cares about her wants to lift a reassuring hand to her shoulder, but the part of him that brought him here just can't raise that arm to care. Instead, he stares at her like she were some strange animal worthy of curious observation, a lacking understanding in hazel eyes and years of worry hanging heavy on a tired old man's face.

He doesn't ask what it is she wants to show him, he doesn't have the desire or the energy to expel needless words now. Besides, she's the kind of person who would show him what she wanted, whether he wanted her to or not.

Nicole lifts her hand tentatively, fingers half curled inward to her palm, and a soft glow casts blue light on her face. Turning her hand, she shows him her open palm where electric blue arcs and cracles between her fingertips. She watches his face still, apprehension clear in that she worries he'll react poorly to this revelation.

"I thought you, of all people, deserved to know about me," Nicole offers quietly by way of explanation. "It happened while I was in Vegas. I… was struck by lightning. And now I can do this." The corners of her eyes crinkle faintly in a faint wince, the dark shadows in the absence of blue light cutting deep across the hollows of her face.

He actually recoils from the crackle, breath drawn in with a sharp hiss and brows shooting up as his eyes go wide. For the barest of moments there is an expression on Allen's face that is something Nicole has never had the misfortune of seeing in him — fear. "You— " This is something he would've wished had been brought to his attention a long time ago, perhaps years, though from the sounds of it Nicole hasn't even been that prescient about her ability that long.

Swallowing back only some of his tension, Rickham stares wide-eyed down at her hands, and only after a moment does he look back up to her; The distance between them is not cleared. "I'm— " he has no idea how to finish that, so the words are differently chosen. "It isn't you." That didn't come out right either, and Allen raises one hand, palm out towards Nicole. "Electricity— with— what I do it— " He's awkwardly trying to tell Nicole what he never tells anyone, what he's made a career of not showing; weakness.

Nicole's fingers close into a fist and the electricity dissipates. "I would never hurt you," she promises. She wants to reach out and touch his arm reassuringly, but she has the presence of mind to realise that that would probably have the opposite effect after what she's just shown him.

"I'm sorry," she says for the second time tonight. "This is the first chance I've had to tell you since I discovered this. I don't… tell many people. I didn't even tell Jenn." There's a hint of regret there that colours Nicole's tone. Perhaps she wishes now that she had.

"She knew." Allen asserts, swallowing tightly. "She— She knew you were Evolved, or she expected it anyway. Your little sister, after all, because it's…" This is the thing that terrifies Allen, "it's heredetary." He fears for his son, that Vincent Rickham could ever lead a normal life because of his own genetic disposition. Taking a hesitant step forward, Allen lifts up one weathered hand to rest against Nicole's shoulder, squeezing there gently, but there's little look of reassurance on his face, only nervousness and apology.

"I'm not supposed to be here…" Allen breathes out the words tiredly, letting his hand slowly start to slide from Nicole's shoulder. "I— Have work to do, I just…" his eyes drift to the floor as his hand departs from the fleeting touch against Nicole's shoulder. "I wanted to say goodbye." But he doesn't imply whether it's goodbye to Jennifer, or goodbye to Nicole, or just— goodbye.

It's disconcerting, the idea that Jenn knew about Nicole's ability before she did. Her parents hadn't been Evolved, so she always assumed it had been some fluke of nature that Colette had been. Apples don't fall far, she supposes. Not for her and not for him.

"I feel like I've heard this all before," Nicole muses softly, tipping her head to brush her cheek against the back of his hand. "Only you haven't said it yet." It all pings reminiscent of the way his future self spoke to her.

"You need me," she asserts. "You did then, and you do now. I'm tired of this can't bullshit." Nicole reaches out to cup Allen's cheek in her palm. "You're not weak." She can tell that he feels it. He looks like a shell of himself. Either self. "I will help you. I want to change the world with you. I have since the first time we met." Her expression softens, but there's too much determination there to be vulnerable. "I don't need you to end your marriage. I don't need to share your bed, for feel the touch of your lips on mine. I need to make you the best man you can possibly be."

A smile touches petal lips. "Because I love you. Because I love the man you would have been. Because he needed to change the world. Because it's what you need to do now." It's like so many pep talks when mud was slung during the presidential campaign, and things would appear dire. But it's more intense, more serious. "I'm going to help you."

"That man is dead." Allen's words are as cold as the weather outside, and as he speaks them there's a reflexive transmutation of his body, the way his skin takes on a more adamant texture, pitting and flecking with every tiny pockmark on his skin, hardening to dark iron and yet at the same time seeming so fluidic as to allow him freedom of movement. His eyes blacken, gloss over, become glossy spheres of hematite so dark they almost seem to draw Nicole into them. "You can't help me change the world the way I'm going to now. You have a life, a family— You can't have the blood on your hands that I'm going to have on mine."

This is so very hauntingly like how his future self had spoken to her.

"I'm not going to change the world with words now, with politics or money. That hope died with Jennifer, all I have left are these hands." Allen lifts his metallic hands, curling dark iron digits against his palm, crease brow impossibly furrowing as his hollow and resonant voice rumbles metallically. "You need to stay as far away from me as you can, Nicole. Because you have too much to lose, and I'm not going to let you put yourself at risk."

Nicole watches the transformation with no hint of fear or revulsion, only that awe and admiration that she's always seemed to hold for him. "I have blood on my hands already, Allen. I'm not naive. I know words aren't going to change the world. Lockheart made sure of that." She brushes her thumb over the dark unyielding metal of his face, just as sure as if it were still flesh. "I'm not going to start crying and let you walk away this time."

Her dark eyes narrow faintly. "You deserve better than that." Than her acquiescence and her shrinking violet. "The only thing I've got worth being afraid of losing is my sister. Between me, her friends, and her stubbornness, she hasn't got a damn thing to worry about." Dark brows lift. It's his move, but she feels she's closing in on check.

"Not this much blood." Allen concedes, "It'll be deep enough to mark the bottom of my chin by the time we're done." Nicole's never heard him talk like this before, with as dead of an expression on his face. It reminds her clearly of his scarred and hopeless counterpart hiding behind the mask of metal to keep his body together, and while this Allen Rickham doesn't bear those scars on the outside, he may well yet have the same ones internally. "Forget about me," he urges her, bringing up a metal hand to hers, moving it from his cheek dark eyes emotionless and silent in their expressiveness.

"Maybe when all this is done, and everyone has lost their taste for fighting… things can be different." His iron fingers slowly unwind from her hand, his grasp had been both firm and gentle at the same time; practiced so. "We're going to take away the will to fight, make them hate the war, make them lose their taste for blood by drowning them in it." Allen's footfalls are heavier now as he takes a slow step backward. "I can't put you in that."

Nicole is reluctant to release her hold on his face, and then on his hand. She lets him put the physical distance between them, if he wants to believe it somehow creates more of an emotional one. It doesn't. Not for her.

"You can't keep me out of it," she warns. "You know me," she says flippantly, resting one hand in the kangaroo pocket of her sweatshirt for lack of anyplace else to warm her fingers, "If I want to be involved, I'm going to be involved."

"Stay out of this." Allen warns in a grave tone, one heavy footfall moving to one side of the brunette as he steps around her, reaching up with a metallic hand to pull down the brim of his hat as he moves past Nicole. "I'm doing this so you have a future to look forward to, not so you waste your future on a man that doesn't have one." He pauses once he's past her, turning to look over his shoulder, face partially hidden by the upturned collar of his brown trenchcoat. "Go live your life, Nicole. Forget about me, forget about this…" he waves around the apartment.

"Any dream of a future you and I had together died here in this apartment." Allen's voice tightens as he says that, a metallic scraping sound grinding dry at the back of his throat. "You and I aren't meant to be together, in any way. Not now, not in the future. I'm meant to be the world's pariah, and…" Allen looks away, shoulders hunching forward, "…I accept that. So should you.

Nicole simply pivots on her slippered heels so she can turn and watch Rickham's movements. "I won't, you know." Maybe it's an attempt to infuriate him or spur him to some sort of action, the way she acts so casual and smiles so impishly. "I refuse to accept a concept so stupid." She holds up her free hand. "Oooh. The world's pariah. Woe is Allen," she teases, wiggling her fingers to emphasise. "When you're done bathing in blood, you come back to me, or I'll come find you." She means it, too.

"Go, and fight your war." Nicole doesn't intend to make this easy for him. It isn't easy for her, either. She again closes the space between them and leans in to plant a soft kiss on his hard cheek. "Stubborn bastard."

"Were I not stubborn…" Allen offers in hushed intonation to Nicole, his hematite eyes making it hard to tell where he's looking, "I wouldn't be the man who you idolize." Dark eyes narrowing, he regards her with a certain caution before turning away, his shoulders slouching where once were taut, and his heavy, plodding footfalls carrying him towards Jenn's partially open door, and then out into the hallway. He hesitates there, just past the threshold, looking back over his shoulder to Nicole in silence.

What's hiding behind his eyes goes unsaid, and he turns wordlessly to disappear beyond that narrow frame of view afforded by the doorway. She can hear his footsteps retreating down the hall, it's hard not to, but she can more readily feel him retreating out of her life. It's louder, and more uncomfortable.

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